Brass monkey, that funky monkey...
Everybody loves monkeys! And if you don't like monkeys (you weirdo), I suggest you go join the militant band of malicious monkey haters in Montana. Or join the cast of "Friends." I mean, people even liked the biting, disease-carrying Outbreak monkey. But deep within us all, I believe we secretly fear the monkey. At any instant, those dole-eyed innocent monkeys are liable to turn on us, tear down our Statue of Liberty, and enslave all of humanity. My god -- those animals!
Well, here's the gist of things in Ape Escape: a monkey named Specter puts on the Peak Point Helmet and obtains great intelligence. So, what does a monkey with a super intellect do? Why, plan to take over the world, of course! (though I'd like to know why there was an intelligence-boosting hat just lying around the Monkey Park. And what genius names a monkey 'Specter'? It just guarantees he'll develop evil, world-dominating tendencies. Should have named him 'Bubbles'... ). Anyways, Specter enlists a thuggish crew of badass monkeys. They steal a time machine, put rotating lights on their heads, and set out to rewrite history in the simian image. As Spike the monkey-hating boy, it's your job to catch those monkeys and stop Specter.
Ape Escape requires a dual analog joystick. The game was designed concurrently with the dual analog controller and was originally meant to be released at the same time. The game got delayed. At least the delay looks like it was worth it, resulting in a pretty innovative game, above average 3-D environments, and only a few kinks.
There are 20 stages, each with a set number of monkeys scattered throughout. To go on to the next level, you must catch a certain amount of monkeys. However, you can replay the stage again later to nab the monkeys you didn't catch the first time. The stages are set around different time periods. While the early stages seem somewhat small, the later levels have more than 20 monkeys lurking around and require a ton of exploration. To break up the pace, there are also some race levels.
Controls in Ape Escape are different then any other action game you've played. Rather than simply tapping buttons, you control actions with the right analog stick while moving with the left. For example, if you are holding your monkey net, you move the right stick forward to swing the net in front of you. Move the stick back, and you swing behind yourself. Rotate the stick around, and you twirl the monkey net around. Whee!
If you didn't know, the dual analog controllers have a L3 and a R3 button, activated by pressing the control sticks down. When you press L3, you crouch. Move the stick while holding it down and you crawl. It just makes sense. Push the R3 button while holding L3 and you'll assume the fetal, hiding position. When you're swimming, pushing L3 makes you dive deeper. All of this takes awhile to get used to, but with play, it becomes second nature. Kudos to Sony for expanding the uses of its controller.
Sneaking up on the monkeys and catching them with your net takes a mix of skill and luck. In a very weird way, the catching element is a lot like Metal Gear with apes [We can call the villain 'Shotgun Monkey' ~Ed]. Each of the monkeys has a little light on its head that represents its mental state. When it's blue, he can't see you. When it's yellow, that monkey is somewhat mellow. And when that headlight's red, he wants you dead (that was my lame poem -- thenkyewverymuch). If you use the crawl and hide techniques, the monkeys will have a harder time noticing you. You can also try sneaking up from behind.
Early on, the monkeys are still pretty stupid and easy to catch. As you progress, there are noticeable improvements in the monkey's AI. Some monkeys have evasive maneuvers with quicker speeds. Others whip out miniature Patriot missiles and fire them your way. So it's best if they don't see you.
In addition to your monkey net, you are given a bunch of different gadgets to combat enemies and get through areas. Each of these gadgets makes full use of the right hand stick. As you progress farther in the game, you earn more gadgets, including a slingshot, flying rotor, hula hoop, and monkey radar. You can then take them back to the early stages to search out the monkeys you couldn't get before.
In certain places, you can also take control of boat or a tank. Each stick maneuvers one part of the device. Take the boat, for instance-- the left stick controls the right oar, and the right stick controls the right oar. Once again, innovative - but it makes sense.
The camera can make or break a 3D game. Thankfully, it's pretty good in Ape Escape, with both automatic and manual control. You even get a first-person view when you use the slingshot, with useful crosshairs and a full turning radius (hear that Croc 2? Full turning radius. Bah, never mind-you're too stupid). In areas that have more of a linear flow, the camera gets locked into place. Overall, the camera system works really well by complementing the gameplay.
The graphics are good, but not the best. Distance is obscured by fog, which sometimes works and sometimes is just an obtrusive space of blue. With different time periods like the Ice Age, Ancient Castle, and Great Wall, the variety of textures and locales is plentiful. However, there's some annoying slowdown when the PSX becomes graphically overtaxed. In one level, you might find a giant dinosaur, a lake with a water shimmer effect, and a waterfall all on the screen at once. You can just feel the slowdown as your run becomes a trot. It's annoying, but not to the point that gameplay is destroyed. Just move around to get some of the effects out of your view, and all's well.
Even with all this innovation, the game itself feels a bit short. I would have enjoyed a few more levels. While 20 is hardly skimping out, it still feels a bit thin.
But you gotta love the monkeys. The attention to detail is really impressive. Some monkeys have sad expressions on their faces. Others are wearing sunglasses. They sneeze, sit down, take naps, you name it. Unfortunately the monkeys are all the same size, just with different color pants. If there were orangutans, gorillas, Keanu Reeves, and baboons -- that would have been so much better. Maybe for Ape Escape 2?
I love the little details. There is a virtual monkey book filled with entries on all the monkeys you've managed to catch. Every monkey has a little bit of information and a blurb about them, right down to their names. It's really funny to read and is filled with personality. There are also three mini-games that you can earn; each is one almost a full game in itself.
The music is made up of techno-based mixes which get better as the game goes on. The music in the cut scenes is good too, with a chaotic quality to mirror those crazy monkeys. A nice touch is that sometimes when you crawl, the main melody of the music is removed, leaving only the beat, adding a feeling of tension while you sneak up to make the catch.
Ape Escape dances along the thin line, but thankfully doesn't fall into the trap of becoming a cheap gimmicky game. Instead, it is a solid 3-D environment action game that is different enough to raise it above the standard. While not without its flaws, the innovative control is very cool. The right stick control feels truly intuitive and you'll wonder why you haven't used it more often. Ape Escape is as fun as a barrel full of... well.. monkeys.